It all started on Grandma's Dairy
This is one of a series of essays on my life. Here we go starting about 1940 on the outskirts of Ellsworth Wisconsin.
Mom and Dad were working hard and saving for their own farm when I came along.
I was born in 1940. That is before the US entered the Second World War. I was very
obviously unaware of world events in those early days yet I am sure those events
shaped my view of the world. Even from deep in farm country I was aware that relatives
and close friends of my parents were involved in the war effort. When I think back to my
early years I wonder about the direct and indirect effects the war had on my little life.
My parents were married in 1938 but, I don't remember this. Mom was a school teacher
at one room, Morgan school near Diamond Bluff WI. Diamond Bluff is in far west central
Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. Dad was a farmer and horse trader and worked
on his Mothers farm on the edge of the Village of Ellsworth. Ellsworth is about 10 or 12
miles from Diamond Bluff. It is the county seat for Pierce county. My understanding is
that after they were married, they lived upstairs from Grandma Brickner and worked the
There was a great deal of cooperation among friends and relatives in those days.
Families were large and there was not a lot of material wealth to spread around.
Instead, folks helped each other out and shared what they could with those that needed
it. Later, when Mom and Dad could afford to move on, My uncle Ernie and his family
moved in with Grandma.
Around the time I was born, my parents moved into a house they had rented
immediately across the street from Grandma's. Known as the Klein house, this became
the first home I really remember. The Klein house was a two story affair with a walkout
basement and a porch with no railing at the southwest corner. I remember there were
two staircases that led to the upstairs were the bedrooms were. The downstairs
consisted of a kitchen, dining room, and living room. The dining room and living room
were along the east wall so one could look out the window and se what was happening
on Grandma's farm across the way. The house had electricity, running water and an
indoor bathroom. I don't remember if we had a telephone. Mom had quit her teaching
job by then and became full time helper in the dairy business.
There were other dairies around town but the Brickner Dairy featured Jersey cows with
incredibly high dairy fat milk. I think there were about 15 or 20 cows in the herd. Even
in those days, the dairy had an electric milking machine. There was a hand cranked
cream separator in the basement of the Klein house were all of the bottling was done. I
don't recall any serious refrigeration as deliveries were made immediately using a 1939
Ford with the back seat removed. All of the milking machines and equipment was
hauled across the road every day for cleaning and sanitation. All of the milk was fresh
and raw. No small dairy could afford pasteurizing equipment.
I have a few distinct memories of this period. I was completely free to wander over this
area as soon as I could walk. I remember being with my Dad a lot. Dad was ever the
entrepreneur. He was an accomplished horse trader and odd job specialist. He dug
basements "all over town" using a slough scrapper horse drawn at first and later pulled
by his John Deere model "A". I got to go and watch as well as ride. One old family
story has me wandering away from a dig site when I was about two and a half. They
found me about a half mile away at the Little Grand cafe were I was enjoying a piece of
pie I had ordered.
One adventure almost ended the whole thing. Again about two and a half, my buddy
from up the street and I were playing pig. You had to be creative in the days before the
cartoon channel. Anyway, part of this play involved eating field corn off the cob. One of
the hard kernels stuck in my throat restricting my ability to breath. Mom and Dad
rushed me off to a doctor in Red Wing MN where they had an X-ray machine.
Unfortunately, the kernel was lodged behind a bone and they couldn't see it. We were
sent home with the advice that the kernel would probably dissolve eventually. I spent a
very sickly 30 days until one morning when I coughed up a very complete kernel. From
that episode, I very distinctly remember being in the doctor's office and showing my
Mom the regurgitated kernel.
Among other things my Dad did was share crop random fields and do custom farm work
like picking corn using a two row mounted picker on his John Deere. I remember an
instance when I was about three when Mom came rushing in after her milk route,
gathered me in my pajamas and headed off to Beldenville, a nearby crossroads. Our
mission was to observe and report on a field Dad was working. There had been rumors
of a hail storm. Sure enough the grain was flat. Such was the excitement fomenting the
memories of a child on the farm.
That '39 Ford earned its keep. As well as being a milk delivery vehicle it also pulled a
horse trailer and occasionally suffered the indignity of hauling a calf or two in the
backseat. Mom was not too happy about that. I vaguely remember them having a
model A or B Ford pickup for awhile but, that '39 Ford was all around more versatile.
I have to stop and reflect on how hard my folks were working in those days. Yet, there
was always time to visit with family and friends, a couple of beers at one of the many
taverns in town or going to the local pavilion dance hall.
Relatives and friends were
important both as responsibilities and resources. For example, my cousin Joyce lived
with us in the Klein house while going to high school doing housekeeping and baby
sitting in exchange for room and board. As an aside, Joyce fell for a close neighbor,
Stuart, who she later married. Stuart also helped my Dad with farm work.
Mom had a large garden as most of the neighbors had. Canning vegetables and fruit
made for a good store of food before winter set in. Besides garden fare, beef, pork and
chicken found their way into jars. In those days most everyone kept a few chickens.
The coups were stocked in the spring. Any males in the flock were consumed as
"fryers" during the summer while the hens were kept as layers through the winter. The
following fall the year old hens were butchered and canned to make room for the new
hens. Those old canned hens were plump and delicious. I am not sure where you can
get such good chicken today. The young fryers were also excellent in their own right.
So life went on. Rationing was a big issue for things like machinery, tires, fuel oil and all
manner of food products. Even as a little kid I had heard of the black market although I
wonder if I knew the meaning. Dad kept buying, selling, and pulling horses and doing
what extra work he could drum up. We visited all the friends and neighbors a lot. We
hosted and visited for Saturday evening parties and Sunday dinners. Dad and mom
worked and saved and a new kid joined us. My brother Jim came along in September
of 1943. By the following winter enough had been saved to swing the purchase of a
farm ten miles away on the other side of Ellsworth. So begins a new and lengthy